A man was charged Thursday with kidnapping and murdering his coworker. Prosecutors in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, claim that defendant Michael Allen Stark, 49, also forced victim Matthew James Branning, 50, to withdraw money from an ATM.
“This investigation, aided by tips from the public, concluded that Stark kidnapped Branning at the end of his work shift on Oct. 15, 2021, forced him to withdraw money from a nearby ATM, and then fled into New Jersey in the victim’s vehicle,” authorities wrote. “At some point during the encounter, Stark killed Branning and disposed of his body.”
Both men worked at Enchlor Inc., a company in the borough of Silverdale, Pennsylvania. Prosecutors claim Stark did not show up for a shift that Oct. 15, but he took an Uber there to wait for Branning.
“On the day of Branning’s disappearance, just prior to the end of his shift, evidence shows that although Stark failed to appear for his shift, he took an Uber to Enchlor and was lying in wait for Branning,” prosecutors said. “Shortly thereafter, Branning was captured on surveillance footage withdrawing money from a drive-thru ATM in Sellersville at 4:07 p.m. No one is in his passenger seat, but a person is partially visible in the back seat of Branning’s 2002 Lexus SUV.”
Toll and cellphone evidence showed Branning’s vehicle going into Central New Jersey at around 5 p.m., authorities said. His bank account was used at a gas station in Somers Point at 7:05 p.m.
Bucks County, Pennsylvania, borders New Jersey.
“Evidence shows that there is over an hour and a half of unaccounted for time in the Somers Point area until both Branning and Stark’s cellphone data is tracked to a Wawa in Cape May two hours later,” authorities said. “Stark is seen on surveillance video making a purchase there at 9:27 p.m. but Branning is not seen in the surveillance footage. An employee at the store later said Stark bought a car charger and USB cable.”
Branning’s Lexus was tracked through toll information going northbound and then westbound on the Atlantic City Expressway. Stark’s cellphone was tracked to Philadelphia’s “Needle Park,” prosecutors said, referring to McPherson Square’s derisive nickname.
Authorities characterized Branning’s disappearance as out of character – claiming he would not be out of touch with family or miss work.
“Since the day Branning went missing, there has been no activity on his cellphone, his bank account, and he has had no contact with his family, who he loved dearly,” authorities said. “Branning’s family said he would not travel unexpectedly to New Jersey.”
His boss said he was “very loyal, always on time, and showed up every day. If he was running late or if he could not make it to work for whatever reason, he would let somebody know.”
It was in December 2021 that the missing man’s vehicle was found in Falls Church, Virginia, authorities said. Investigators found forensic evidence inside, testing and linking it to Stark, prosecutors claim. They also alleged that they discovered crack vials linked to the drug market at McPherson Square.
Stark was arrested in April 2022 in Wayne County, Michigan, for a warrant out of Monroe County, Pennsylvania, authorities said. He was extradited to Pennsylvania on July 27, 2022. Online records show he pleaded guilty to resisting arrest. He was sentenced Feb. 21 to between 311 days and one year, 11 months, 30 days in prison.
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